Coping Mechanisms

What is coping? Let's ask Wikipedia (I'm lazy):

"In psychology, coping means to invest own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict."

Whether you suffer from depression/anxiety or not, you definitely have coping mechanisms hard-wired into your system like every other human being on this planet. 

Some are "common", like stress eating, denial, and escape.

I stress eat all the time. I also "bored eat." You know, when you're just sitting there all bored and not even hungry but start eating because there's nothing else to do.

I've definitely been in denial. I'm probably in denial about something at any given point in my life. I was definitely in denial about how bad the situation is with the Cleveland Cavaliers after we "traded" Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics. But whatever. [Cleveland] Sports, unfortunately, has brought me more stress than joy so...fuck it. (I started this post before the NBA trade deadline, which was Feb 8 @ 3pm EST and the Cavaliers made crazy trades -- net net, still in denial)

The more I read about coping mechanisms, the more I look at myself to see if I can identify what mine are. I think it's important to go back to the definition when doing this because something seemingly as innocuous as eating can be tied to an internal or external conflict.

I admit that I'm an insecure person. Not in all aspects of my life, but certainly in some areas more than others. 

I've always been insecure about my weight. Growing up I was definitely that kid wearing pants that were sized "husky". I was never obese but I was big enough to have been teased for my weight every once in a while. It wasn't until I was several years out of college that I realized that some of my eating habits were closely tied to my mental state. To be honest, I was closer to being 30 when I realized this. I think deep down I always knew. (Is it me or do we always "deep down always know" after the fact?)

I remember one time in college when my friends and I were studying for either midterms or finals, we would go to the Science and Engineering Library (aka SEL) to set up camp for the rest of the night. Literally. SEL was open 24 hours, which was why I studied here. Because I definitely wasn't in a science or engineering major. One distinct memory is when we went to get food and we walked over to Wendy's. I remember ordering no less than 50% of the entire, then $0.99, value menu. In case you can't imagine how much food that's a shit ton of food:

  • Jr. cheeseburger deluxe
  • Jr. bacon cheeseburger (the best)
  • Chicken sandwich
  • Spicy chicken nuggets
  • Chili
  • French fries
  • Frosty
  • Soda

I remember eating everything. I definitely don't remember studying, probably because I was passed out. I was never really good at school and tests always gave me anxiety. So it's not a surprise that stress eating is a means of escape for me. I'd rather fall into a catatonic state from overeating than stress out about studying, work, relationships, etc.

Even now as an adult in my 30s, my eating patterns/habits are linked to my mental state. But now I noticed there are seasonal differences. If I'm in a depressive state or super anxious, my eating habits will be different in the summer versus the winter. In the summer I might not eat anything whereas in the winter I'll eat more than my body needs/can handle. But sometimes it's the opposite, so maybe seasonality has nothing to do with it and it's just how my body wants to feel? Sorry...I'm still figuring all of this stuff out for myself!

I'm fascinated with the psychology behind coping mechanisms.

There are endless types of coping mechanisms but for simplicity sake, let's bucket them into 2 types:

  1. Adaptive coping (or Constructive coping)
  2. Maladaptive coping (or Non-coping)

Adaptive coping is positive in nature. One example of an adaptive coping strategy is anticipation. When we face certain difficult or challenging situations, we try to anticipate what those hurdles are and prepare for how we will cope with it. Another example is when we laugh things off by seeing the humor in situations. This one is a bit tricky because one could use humor to avoid dealing with another conflict, but it can be used both ways.

Maladaptive coping is negative in nature. It's behaviors like disassociation, avoidance, and escape that best describe it. 

Personally speaking, most, if not all, of my coping mechanisms are maladaptive. Whether it's stress eating, being avoidant, or wanting to escape.

Not sure if I've stated this in previous posts but I go to therapy regularly and I mostly go to talk about my issues and struggles with relationships. Not only romantic relationships but also relationships I have with my family and friends. 

Focusing on romantic relationships, there are many things that I struggle with. I used to be and still can be, very impressionable. I would get smitten very easily and before even knowing for sure if I liked someone I would already fantasize about a future with that person in my head. How could I possibly even know without getting to know them more first? But before I even get to that point, I still have to figure out if that person even wants to be in a relationship with ME.

I often times get really stressed out because I put myself in bad situations mentally. I create false expectations and when they are not met (9 times out of 10) I am devastated. It's almost as if the adaptive coping strategy of anticipation is working against me because even though my default is to always anticipate the worst case scenario, and said scenario happens, I'm just as devastated as if I didn't anticipate it, if not worse.

I had (sometimes still have) this really bad habit of letting my brain skip steps and just start thinking about a future with someone based on desires and not facts. That led to increases in anxiety because I had set up false expectations that were created in my head when in reality it was the total opposite.

Two years ago, I basically fell in love with a woman that I had been dating for a few months. We seemingly had this amazing chemistry. But after some time, things kind of fizzled between us towards the end of summer and I noticed our communication cadence was different and her tone towards me got colder. Yet every once in a while we'd have a heartfelt conversation either on the phone or in-person and I would forget about past issues. I'd be back on cloud nine. 

That became a pattern for the next few months. It got to a point where we stopped speaking for a while and then resumed again. We both agreed that at least for the time being it would be best if we simply just tried being friends at that time. This was something she said she wanted, and I wanted it too. My rationale was that it's not often I meet people that are easy to talk to and I didn't want to waste all that time to get to know someone for nothing, especially when deep down I really cared about them.

We talked a few more times, but ultimately it ended with her ghosting me. We had made plans to hang out the night of the first Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump debate. As of that morning, we were still on schedule to hang out but while I was at work she texted that she had to go see her landlord first. I am typically overly flexible for people I like and she was no exception. I said that it was cool and that I was free to meet up anytime after work. I never heard from her again. 

I was shook. I sent her one last text to express my disappointment. I basically said, and I'm paraphrasing, "how can you say you want to be friends if you don't act like a friend? I hope you don't do this to anyone else because it's a shitty thing to do, and nobody deserves that."

And no, she did not respond to that either. 

I had built this person up in my head and every time something went wrong I would blame myself and it was the most miserable I had been in recent past. I am naturally someone who is very in tune with my emotions but most of the time the emotions I feel are not always physically manifested.

One day, she and I were texting and I could just sense the coldness in her messages. I was at a woodworking workshop that day and afterwards, I walked home and her place was on the way, but I didn't say anything or do anything. I continued on and when I got home, I was immediately flooded with intense anxiety and dread. It was probably one of the worst panic attacks I've experienced in my life. I remember making my way to my room and crashing on my bed, curling up into a ball with tears streaming down my face. 

It was around that time I started smoking cigarettes and getting high more often. If I was better at drinking alcohol, I 100% would have started drinking more. Luckily I am one of those Asians that just can't process alcohol and so drinking is actually more of a painful experience for me than pleasurable. 

In addition to the smoking habit and getting high frequently, my appetite basically went away and I dropped a lot of weight. I definitely wasn't healthy and I could feel that, but it felt better than being miserable thinking about her. This was my escape.

Little did I know, I wasn't really escaping from anything, I was just ignoring my problems.

I know I said earlier that I fell in love with her. It took me a while, but I realized that I just fell in love with the idea of her. An idea that I made up in my head. Once I came to that conclusion I was ready to move on and fully let go. Obviously, I am still reconciling some things internally but I'm also still reconciling things from 15 years ago. Therapy has been incredibly helpful and I don't know where I'd be without it.

My therapist helped me identify some of the self-destructive behaviors I was exhibiting during that difficult time. Knowing is half the battle. Once I changed my perspective I was able to cope with everything better. 

I was no longer making excuses for her. My therapist said that I don't get mad enough when stuff like this happens to me. She wasn't saying being mad often is good, but I just never at all got mad about certain situations where I was clearly wronged yet blamed myself. 

I'm still learning to cope better with issues for all of my relationships (romantic/family/friends). I'd like to think I've made great strides the last two years and I hope to continue.

I am stating a lot of things for the first time on this post. To be honest I feel a lot of apprehensions but I also know that once I hit "save and publish" I will feel better.

Thank you for reading.